This bourbon was bottled as part of Four Roses' Private Barrel Program, which allows retailers to select barrels from any of the ten recipes the distillery produces, which are then bottled at full strength without chill filtration. Barrel 89-1I was made from the 20% rye mashbill with the E strain yeast (red berries, medium richness), aged for 10 years and 9 months in warehouse SN, then bottled for Rose City Liquor in Portland around 2012.
Four Roses OESO Private Single Barrel for Rose City Liquor 55.3%
Nose: lots of berries (raspberries and blackberries, especially), solid but not aggressive oak, underlying corn sweetness, vanilla cake frosting, dry rye grain, light caramel, Cinnamon Toast Crunch
Taste: lots of corn and caramel sweetness throughout, tempered by oak tannins, berry and ripe fruit ride on top, rye grain spice in the background, something lightly floral starting in the middle
Finish: rye grain, residual corn, mild oak, berry compote
At full strength this is a big, bold bourbon. Everything comes in spades - berries, oak, corn sweetness. It usually needs some time in the glass to breath and let a bit of alcohol burn off, but eventually transforms into a magnificent experience. Unsurprisingly for an older bourbon, this is right on the edge of being over-oaked, but that helps to counterbalance the sweeter flavors from the corn and yeast. The only thing that is relatively subdued is the rye, which, while this is the 'low rye' recipe for Four Roses, is still higher than most other rye recipe bourbons out there (Jim Beam's OGD recipe and a handful from MGP are the only other recipes from from major distillers with a higher rye content that I can think of).
As I usually do with barrel proof whiskeys, I proofed down a couple of samples to see how the whiskey changed.
Four Roses SB OESO at 50%
Nose: more oak-dominated, with berry compote notes integrating with the wood, giving it a polished quality, with creamy grain (barley and corn) and sawdust in the not-too-distant background, while some apple peaks around the edges
Taste: instead of an evolving experience, corn sweetness, oak tannins, berries, and mint all hit at once, intertwining and carrying through the palate, which gives it a great richness
Finish: minty grain, mild oak, berry compote residue
This is the strength at which the age of the bourbon is most readily apparent, with the barrel casting a strong shadow over the spirit. It's not bad, but as I tend to prefer my bourbons on the less oak-y side, it is less appealing to me. On the upside, the alcohol is quite subdued for being at 50% and only a bit less than the full strength.
Nose: jammy berry and dry grain notes become softer, but are highlighted by the slightly reduced oak, which becomes younger and sawdust-y, rye comes out as mint/juniper, with caramel acting as a bass note
Taste: brief corn sweetness up front, which is quickly swallowed by the oak tannins, which dominate the back 2/3 and produce a bitter to bittersweet effect overall, with strong mint and berry overtones throughout
Finish: berries take center stage, with softer oak tannins
While less brash and bold than the whiskey at full strength, this is still very drinkable and doesn't lack much in intensity. I like a whiskey that can take a lot of water without drowning. I also enjoyed how much more apparent the rye was at this strength, where the mint provided a certain coolness in counterpoint to the warmed berry and oak elements. I can see how this would fit well into the Small Batch recipe (which is bottled at 45%), providing the red berries that are touted in the official tasting notes.
At just about any strength, this is a fabulous bourbon. Rose City hit one out of the park with this pick. It's a perfect example of what Four Roses can do at a respectable price in this day and age (I want to say that it was under $50 when I bought it). Prices for Private Single Barrels have gone up and ages are down (Four Roses doesn't usually let go of anything above nine years old now), but I will definitely be exploring more of what's available now as they still seem like excellent values.